Nova Scotia

African immigrant group fears defunding amid turmoil and government inaction

Members of an organization that helps Africans immigrate to Nova Scotia say it's at risk of being defunded as rival groups claim to run it and the provincial government won't say who's in charge.

2 groups claim to run African Diaspora Association of the Maritimes, but Liberals won't say who's legitimate

Lena Diab is responsible for Nova Scotia's Office of Immigration, which funds the African Diaspora Association of the Maritimes. She won't speak publicly on which leadership group she's working with. (CBC)

Members of an organization that helps Africans immigrate to Nova Scotia say it's at risk of being defunded as rival groups claim to run it and the provincial government won't say who's in charge.

The African Diaspora Association of the Maritimes, or ADAM, was formed about 15 years ago to help Africans move to Nova Scotia, learn the local languages, and build a life. It does similar work to ISANS, but with a focus on Africans, who come from 54 countries and may speak one of hundreds or even thousands of different languages. 

But now two groups claim to represent ADAM and each accuses the other of ethical and financial improprieties. The provincial Liberal government has given the group $145,000 since April 2018. The government has expressed concerns about ADAM's finances, but won't say with which group it is dealing.

"We are very concerned that we are going to lose our funders for this lack of transparency and mismanagement of the organization," Godfred Chongatera, a lawyer and member of the "transition team" challenging the incumbent board, said this week.

Chongatera said community members have not seen financial statements in almost two years. 

Godfred Chongatera is an immigration lawyer and former chair of the African Diaspora Association of the Maritimes. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

Tony Ince, the minister for African Nova Scotian Affairs, wrote a letter to ADAM in March 2020 saying the group had not provided him with financial statements, board minutes, or various other information he'd requested. 

"ANSA cannot be involved in a process where we cannot validate that there is appropriate fairness, transparency and proper protocols in place at this time," he wrote in the letter, which has been seen by CBC News. "We are willing to work with whomever emerges as the ADAM board."

Ince would not speak to CBC about the confusion.

Diab won't say who's in charge

Nova Scotia's Immigration Minister, Lena Diab, said her department has funded ADAM since 2011. She said after new elections were not held in March, her office extended the funding by six months. Diab's office gave ADAM three months of the funding, but not yet the second three months.

"The requirement for them and everyone else is to provide us a progress report of how they processed the first three months to ensure that they are serving newcomers and fulfilling their requirements. And we are awaiting receipt of that three-month report before we fund anything else," she said.

She said her office and ANSA are helping to mediate the dispute. But she would not say which board it recognizes, nor to whom the funding has been going. 

Contentious elections

The dispute has been brewing for a couple of years. 

Robinah Kakembo was elected chair of ADAM in 2018. Her two-year term ended in March 2020, but she told CBC the COVID-19 pandemic led her to cancel the March election. She said the Maritime-wide organization will hold fresh elections on July 25, but they will be in-person only at the group's office in Halifax. 

All of the board positions are unpaid. Any member in good standing can vote and run for office. 

Robinah Kakembo says she's still chair of ADAM until a new board is elected. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

"We are trying not to put anything online basically because there is so much kerfuffle we had and so many problems we're having from these individuals," she said. "They hijacked our website, so anything we put out there, they are going to hijack it."

That transition team has posted messages on ADAM's website claiming Kakembo and her board have been ousted and replaced by the transition team. 

Chongatera said Kakembo failed to hold a proper annual general meeting in 2019 and has yet to reschedule the 2020 meeting. He said the ADAM members have met independently and voted out Kakembo's board and voted in his team. 

'Holding people to account'

He said the July 25 elections aren't legitimate. "If we just let this go and we just go do elections and go away without holding people to account, these things will repeat themselves."

He said it will ultimately fall to Nova Scotia's Office of Immigration — and Diab — to decide which group represents ADAM.

"They are the main funder so, yes, they will have to play a role in that. We also think other community members who have the organization at heart will have to also step in and make sure that this is done probably," he said. 

Kakembo said the July 25 elections are the right way forward. 

"We came here as immigrants to escape tyranny, to escape dictatorship, to escape war and pandemic. And they are bringing the same war to Nova Scotia. It just breaks my heart," Kakembo said. 

"They are going around making up stories and garbage. Tabloids, if you may, on the internet, calling themselves the caretakers of ADAM."

3 leaders could emerge

Chongatera said that was not true. 

"She is lacking in her performance as chair," he said. "All we are doing is asking for accountability."

Kakembo said no one on her board will reoffer. Chongatera said no one from his transition team will run either. 

That means if the July 25 election goes ahead in some capacity, there could well be a third group claiming to represent ADAM and its responsibility to dispense tens of thousands of dollars in public funds to help African people trying to settle in Nova Scotia. 

Stephen McNeil's government won't say if it will recognize that potential new group, or either of the existing groups.

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Corrections

  • An earlier version of this article said Lena Diab declined to be interviewed for this story. While her office initially did decline an interview request and provided a statement instead, she later did address the matter on Thursday. This story has subsequently been updated to include her comments.
    Jul 17, 2020 2:58 PM AT

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